Comprador Professionalism and Confrontational Professionalism in State-lawyer Relations: Lessons from Post-Umbrella Hong Kong

Can legal professionalism defend the rule of law in authoritarian regimes? This paper differentiates legal professionalism in two forms, i.e. ‘comprador professionalism’ and ‘confrontational professionalism’, indicating the nature of the relationship between authoritarian states and legal profession alongside the trajectories of politicisation in the legal community. Based on a sociological investigation of the dynamics of Hong Kong’s legal profession between 2014 and 2020, this paper argues that, authoritarian regimes can intervene the self-regulatory legal profession by instituting comprador professionalism which appreciates the instrumental and economic values of the rule of law on one hand, yet relativises its substantive values of safeguarding civil liberties on the other. Although lawyers can exercise confrontational professionalism within professional bodies, the utility of resistance depreciates under unfavourable institutional and cultural settings within the legal community.